Government closes day schools in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu over Azimio protests

Students crossing the street in Nairobi during a past school closure. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Day schools in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu were closed on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, ahead of anti-government protests that have often turned violent.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu and Interior's Kithure Kindiki said credible security intelligence had indicated that criminal elements were planning to unleash terror and violence on the public during the protests that have been planned for Wednesday through to Friday.

The statement said criminal elements intended to engage in armed skirmishes with security agencies around certain schools in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

"As a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of school children, it has been decided that all day primary and secondary schools within Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu cities shall remain closed tomorrow," Machogu and Kindiki's statement said.

They said the opening dates would be announced upon assessment of the security situation in the country.

"The Ministry of Education shall announce the resumption of learning in the aforementioned schools upon assessment of the security situation in the course of tomorrow."

The government's statement came as Azimio leaders have vowed to proceed with their planned countrywide protests against the high cost of living, among other things.

Teachers have warned that learners may lose up to 20 hours of lessons due to the planned three-day anti-government protests. Primary school learners will lose 14 hours, while secondary school learners will lose about 20 hours.

At the same time, demonstrators have been asked to keep away from learning institutions, as details emerged that the Azimio coalition's planned protests will start on Wednesday.

Kenya School Heads of Association chairman Kahi Indimuli said learners stand to lose more if protests are not stopped and called for negotiations between the opposition and government.

He also asked the police to exercise restraint when controlling protesters and desist from throwing tear gas in institutions.

"Most primary schools have children who don't have the skills and knowledge on how to react in such situations. In secondary schools, it may cause a stampede that can have devastating effects," said Mr Indimuli who spoke at his Machakos High School office.

He said the demonstrations will affect schools for the fourth time since the new term began in May.

Schools opened on May 8 and will close on August 11 for two weeks. While some institutions partially operate with a fraction of the total student and teacher population, others completely close their doors during the demonstrations.

This now shines the light on the effects of the protest on teaching and learning as it could possibly slow down coverage of the syllabus.

On Tuesday, education stakeholders decried the effects of the demonstrations on education.

Kenya Primary School Heads Association chairperson Johnson Nzioka warned of a 'significant disruption' because of the protests.

He said most learners (70 per cent) attend primary and secondary day schools, and they are the most affected.

"Increased tension from previous protests has resulted in some learners and teachers skipping school, and this slows down teaching and learning, ultimately leading to delayed coverage of the syllabus," Nzioka told The Standard.

Other stakeholders warned the damage could be long-lasting. Without access to education, children and young people could be prone to abuse and violence.

On Tuesday, they called on the two parties to tone down the political tension with the Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Collins Oyuu saying the ongoing demonstrations had resulted in a loss of learning time.

"One might think that an hour lost in the learning process is something that is not important, but what we lose in one day of teaching translates to effects and affects the end result and even the examination of our children," Oyuu said.

He further condemned the violence meted out on some learning institutions in the last demonstrations.

Last week, police lobbed a tear gas canister at Kihumbuini Primary School in Kangemi, Nairobi, attracting widespread condemnation. At least 50 learners were taken to hospital following the incident.

"Nobody, no genuine teacher can see this as interesting. Some of them shed tears, let alone parents of those children," said Oyuu.

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